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Cooking with local food

Posted Dec 08 2009 12:00am
I've been restraining myself from buying new cookbooks lately. Between the cookbooks I already have, the food publications I read, and the wealth of ideas I encounter online, there’s no way I’m ever going to be able to make all the promising recipes out there. My pile of magazine clippings alone could keep me busy for years!

But I just made an exception for The Gaining Ground Table: Inspirational Recipes Season by Season.

Gaining Ground is nonprofit hunger relief organization based in Concord, Mass. Hundreds of volunteers grow organic vegetables on acreage once farmed by Henry David Thoreau, then give away the produce to food pantries, government meal programs, and shelters. Food donated to charity typically consists of dented cans and about-to-spoil rejects from restaurants and grocery stores -- but Gaining Ground delivers fresh, local, high-quality produce to people who can least afford it.

Their cookbook, by the way, is gorgeous. It’s several notches above your typical fund-raising effort, and I’m not just saying that because my recipe for maple cranberry sauce appears on page 173. I’d grab this cookbook even if it weren’t for such a good cause.

If you’ve ever wandered through a farmer’s market, gazed at all that beautiful produce, and wondered what on earth to do with it, The Gaining Ground Table supplies the missing piece of the puzzle. The book is organized by what’s in season in New England throughout the year, including the winter months. The recipes are simple and quick, but most could easily hold their own in fancy cooking magazines. Like cauliflower leek soup. Sauteed baby artichokes with white wine and fresh herbs. Basil chicken in coconut curry sauce. Sweet summer peach crisp.

Ironically, they’re the kinds of foods low-income families rarely get to enjoy, because as I'm sure you've noticed, fresh local produce is expensive. Organic food has become something of an upscale commodity.

That’s why Gaining Ground is such a revolutionary organization, and why The Gaining Ground Table is a worthy addition to any cookbook shelf. You can read more about it here.

Maple cranberry sauce

Have you seen the recipe for cranberry sauce printed on the side of the bag of cranberries? One cup of sugar? No, thanks.

This recipe uses maple syrup instead. It’s still sweet, but the natural flavor of the cranberries comes through.

One 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
1/3 - 1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup water
dash of fresh-squeezed orange or lemon juice (optional)

Rinse cranberries and pick out any that are soft or brown. Place cranberries along with remaining ingredients in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until mixture has thickened (it will thicken further as it cools). This sauce will keep in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks.
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